What If Women Had Never Won the Vote?

August 26 is Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates the 96th anniversary of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote. We’re marking the occasion with a series of posts that touch on the importance and impact of women in politics. To dig deeper, pick up our latest issue featuring in-depth reporting and interviews on the gender gap and the ways feminism has shaped politics. You can also join the celebration by taking our feminist voting pledge!

96 years ago, women won the right vote. Nearly a century later, women have emerged as the most reliable voters in American politics, turning out at higher rates than their male counterparts in every election since 1980—the first election in which the gender gap was not only apparent, but a pivotal part of the presidential election results. It’s undeniable: The 19th amendment has had a huge impact on American politics—especially in the past four decades.

But what if it had never passed?

Wikimedia / Creative Commons
Wikimedia / Creative Commons

One way – albeit simplistic- to evaluate how politics would have been different without women’s suffrage is to consider how presidential election results would have differed if only men could vote. An all-male electorate, for example, would have elected a Republican president in 1996 and 2012, with significant implications for the policy outcomes and political direction of the country. In 2016, removing women’s political power would also yield a different electoral outlook in the presidential race.

Across six four-way national polls conducted this month, Donald Trump leads among men and Hillary Clinton leads among women. That means that a popular vote among only men held today would favor Trump as the next president, contrary to the current results which have Clinton winning a plurality of all American voters.


But in presidential contests, it’s the Electoral College vote that matters. So how would Trump fare in key battleground states that could sway electoral college counts if women were excluded from the vote? Results from the most recent polls (where gender crosstabs were reported) in 13 swing states mirror national trends; in all but three states, Hillary Clinton is leading thanks to women’s support. Without women voters, predicted outcomes in six states—Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—would shift from a Clinton to Trump victory. In Georgia and Florida, Trump’s support is strong enough to withstand women’s preference for Clinton in the latest polls. Women’s votes are keeping the races competitive in Iowa and North Carolina. Both men and women favor Clinton in the latest Virginia poll, and this week’s CNN/ORC poll of Arizona voters had Trump edging out Clinton among men and women. In Michigan, male voters are split between the two top presidential contenders; with women’s votes included, Clinton holds an overall lead.

Together, these states represent 160 Electoral College votes—more than enough to sway November’s results.



If current poll results stood and women were excluded from voting, Donald Trump would win at least 144 of these votes—pushing him well over the 270-vote threshold to win based on the current measure of safe Democratic and Republican states.

It’s important to note that neither women nor men are a monolithic bloc of voters; just as there are large numbers of men supporting Clinton this year, Trump has earned the support of some women. But the persistent gender differences in presidential polling have become particularly stark in this year’s campaign, reminding us of the difference women make in electoral outcomes.

In 2013, Dr. Susan J. Carroll wrote that “it may have taken 60 years to arrive, but the women’s vote that the suffragists anticipated is now clearly evident and has been influencing the dynamics of presidential elections for more than three decades.”

2016 appears to be no exception.

Opinions expressed here are the author’s own. Ms. is owned by Feminist Majority Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, and does not endorse candidates.


Kelly Dittmar is an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and a scholar at the Center for American Women in Politics. Find her on Twitter @kdittmar.